A History of Cytology

A History of Cytology

A History of Cytology

A History of Cytology

Excerpt

An account of so small a fragment of the sum total of human experience as the development of microscopical research can hardly hope to gratify the general historian to any appreciable extent. It is of no special significance, for instance, that the discovery of Brownian motion preceded the emancipation of Roman Catholics in England by a single year. It is certainly true that social history now recognises the importance of scientific discovery as a factor in economic progress, but in this tends to concentrate on such knowledge 'as hath a tendency for use', as Robert Boyle put it. Thus pure research is overshadowed by technology in the story of past centuries as in the expanding universities of the present day.

The history of any branch of learning, however specialised or arcane, has nevertheless its own purpose. The invention of the microscope in the seventeenth century disclosed a new world, that of the hitherto invisibly small, and summoned the student of nature to explore it. Efforts to meet this challenge have continued ever since; though always the horizon of final comprehension steadily recedes with each new forward step. Robert Hooke, with his imperfect compound microscope, baffled in the search for Nature's 'appropriated instruments and contrivances to bring her designs and ends to pass', stands here beside the contemporary electron microscopist still without sight of the physical gene. If those who pursue these new and exciting methods of research were more aware of their station in a historical sequence they might perhaps be less inclined to deck their findings in new and unnecessary jargon. Robert Hooke was content with the noble English of his day; but we now read . . .

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